What will the world look like in 2025? What will be India’s fate at that date? The US National Intelligence Council (NIC) report Global Trends 2025: A Transformed World, tries to paint a picture of that age. It predicts the elevation of Brazil, India, Russia and China to the halls of power. It also predicts the decline of American power.
India has always longed for great-power status. It has done little to attain that goal and its path to that end is far from certain. That might be a harsh judgement, but there are ample grounds for doubt.
Illustration: Jayachandran / Mint
So far, for the past 150-odd years, India has lived in a rather benign international order. In that time, the world has been led by two liberal great powers: Britain, followed by the US. Free markets, free trade and attempts to create a rule-based international system have been the products of their dominance. The rise of China and Russia presages the emergence of an illiberal world order. How India will adapt to this new order is a strategic challenge that our leaders have paid scant attention to.
The NIC report predicts great pressure and competition for resources such as water, food and energy that have so far been rather freely available. In the new order, dim contours of which are already visible, that will not be the case. China has anticipated this in advance—its global hunt for resources in far-flung corners of the world is a pointer in this respect. In a situation where the supply of such goods is inelastic, market allocation takes a back seat and political tying up of their supply becomes the driver of allocation. This happened in the liberal era too, but then the population was manageable, the number of national players fewer and the aspirations more grounded.
Meeting these challenges requires diplomatic and political adroitness, if India is ever to reach the high table, let alone be a great power. One example of the lack of this is the Indo-US civilian nuclear agreement. From the first strategic dialogue with the US in 1994, it has taken 14 uncertain years to reach that goal. By 2008, when our diplomacy ushered in a partnership with the US, it’s already moving into an era of relative decline.
Fundamentally, there is a trade-off involved here. Politicization of large swathes of policymaking bestows legitimacy, but retards efficiency. Ultimately, this legitimacy is hollow if it does not deliver the goods. Our energy policy, pricing of goods and services and even diplomacy are in this bind. Our leaders have to learn where to draw the line, if the predictions of the NIC report are to come true.
Can India become a great power by 2025? Write to us at firstname.lastname@example.org